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Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann Returns With a Strong Solo Folk-Rock Release

17 Oct

Archers of Loaf is a 90s guitar rock band from North Carolina. According to a 1995 story in the Stanford Daily, the name was inspired by a neighbor of one of the band members who had a longbow and would shoot at targets in his backyard.

One day, the band member watched his neighbor shooting a loaf of bread at a target. The effort was futile because the loaf would “just hit the ground about 10 feet away, and (the archer) would go pick it up.” But apparently, it sparked the creative process for the band that would become Archers of Loaf.

While the band broke up in 1998 (although it has done some reunion tours in recent years), lead singer-songwriter, Eric Bachmann, has gone on to have a successful solo career — in addition to recording with the band, Crooked Fingers.

Bachmann is back with his latest solo release, No Recover, in which he’s accompanied by ex-Archer and long-time friend, guitarist Eric Johnson. The atmospheric folk-rock blends acoustic and electric guitar with subtle synths and rhythms — plus lots of rich harmonies. There’s a sense of sadness and weariness throughout, but an underlying hopefulness as well.

Overall, No Recoveris a very nice collection of songs in the easy folk-rock genre.

Track highlights:Opener, “Jaded Lover, Shady Drifter,” is an obvious standout. A rapid tapping rhythm underlies a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, with Bachmann’s majestic vocals soaring high above. A few synth trimmings and rich harmonies in the chorus add to the layers of sound.

Next up is “Daylight,” an uplifting ballad with an intricate, repeating, bell-like synth track and whimsical vocals. There’s a throwback feeling to this one, like something out of the 1970s when FM radio crossovers began to make it onto the top hit charts.

“Waylaid” is brighter and more upbeat — with fingerpicked guitar and a bouncier, rhythmic feeling. There’s a ringing electric guitar in the lead break. And the lyrics offer a nice sentiment — “There’s no lesson to be learned from our mistake/Just a chance you have to take.”

Track 8 of the 9-song set, “Wild Azalea,” offers some incredible guitar fingerpicking in a song that almost has a chamber-folk feeling. Chimey, with slightly Americana feeling vocals — it definitely hints at Bachmann’s North Carolina heritage.

If you’re looking for something folk-centric to enjoy on a leisurely Sunday morning or on a rainy day this winter, No Recoverwill off you a very pleasant 35 minutes.

 

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New Spell’s “Of Time – Part II” Casts a Spell with Its Intricate, Dark Dream-Pop

2 Oct

New Spell is a San Francisco-based duo known for dark, dynamic, cerebral dream-pop. The pair’s music is intricately layered, with multifaceted textures from synth-centered soundscapes to complex rhythms and crystalline vocals.

Singer-songwriter and keyboardist, Leanne Kelly, serves as the unifying force behind the duo’s sound. Jacob Frautschi handles the drumming and producer, Max Savage, also contributed to the latest release with additional synths, guitar, piano, ukulele, and glockenspiel as needed on the tracks. Other guest artists contributed performances to the EP as well.

Of Time – Part II is the follow-up to New Spell’s Of Time – Part I, released in 2017. Both collections demonstrate Kelly’s skill in creating vivid worlds and telling stories through her music and lyrics — with soaring vocals and powerful keyboards. This is not your typical synth-pop — it washes over you — immersing you in the experience, while touching you with lyrics that examine what it means to be human.

Track highlights:The first song on the EP is stunning. “You Win” explores the role of honesty in a relationship, with the repeated phrase, “And so, lies, you win.” Kelly’s voice over the swirling, swelling keyboards is strong and piercing, buoyed by Frautschi’s urgent, tumbling drumming.

Track 2, “Like Water,” is more pensive and moody — with reassuring synth strings and Kelly’s doubled vocals. The brief lead break is intriguing, almost jazzy, mixing synth arpeggios with crisp drumming.

The last of the four songs on the EP is the title track. “Of Time” is set in 3/4 time, dancing and floating along with the help of a toy piano, strummed guitar, brushes on drums, and Kelly’s wistful vocals. It’s fragile and uplifting as it examines our relationship with the passage of time.

Kelly has also included acoustic versions of two of the compositions, “Of Time” and “Like Water,” on the EP. This is another strong release from a Bay Area band that you may not be familiar with.

 

Iron & Wine Releases “Weed Garden” EP as a Companion to his “Beast Epic” LP

26 Sep

Samuel Beam, who records and performs as Iron & Wine, has just released a six-song EP of tracks that were originally written for 2017’s Beast Epic, but could not be finished in time for that album’s release for a variety of reasons.

Called Weed Garden, the reference is not to the well-known plant with its medicinal and recreational properties, but rather to Beam’s willingness to go a bit “into the weeds” to cultivate these unfinished tracks and bring them to fruition.

Weed Garden is true to Iron & Wine’s honest folk-rock heritage, featuring songs ranging from Americana-flavored, “Waves of Galveston” — which has been a favorite at Beam’s live performances for a number of years — to the intricate chamber-folk of “Milkweed.” All of the songs have merit, and to my ears, at least three of the tracks clearly stood a good chance of earning a place on Beast Epic had they been ready in time.

Track highlights: The EP opens with “What Hurts Worse,” a melodic tune featuring acoustic guitar and piano underscored by the constant beat of tom-toms.

“Milkweed” is the track I mentioned above, an intricate, layered chamber folk composition. It contains rich string parts, both plucked and bowed — and relies on a complicated time signature.

The closing track on the EP is “Talking to Fog,” a plaintive and peaceful song that shows off Beam’s accomplished fingerpicking and rich, throaty vocals.

Overall, I recommend Weed Garden as a nice companion to what was one of Iron & Wine’s stronger album releases in recent years.

San Francisco’s William Duke Is Back with a Satisfying Indie Rock/Power Pop Album

19 Sep

William Duke was as early member of Oakland’s Bye Bye Blackbirds, appearing on the band’s firs two albums and sharing the songwriting credits with Bradley Skaught. Duke then left the band to embark on a solo career. In 2018, he’s back with an excellent mini album (or long EP) called Quatro.

The eight tracks on the CD showcase Duke’s talents as a songwriter and musician capable of creating catchy Tom Petty-like, Americana-flavored rock and power-pop. Duke is now based in San Francisco, and the mix on Quatro reflects a variety of influences beyond Petty — including cult favorite Stax band, Big Star, the Beach Boys and even a touch of the Beatles in the lengthy psych-rock trail-out on opener, “Caroline And The Silver Screen.”

The melodies are catchy and the harmonies infectious, with a consistency from track to track that means there are really no weak songs in the collection. Head over to William Duke Presents’ Bandcamp pageand give Quatro a spin today.

Track highlights:One of the strongest songs in the set is “Caroline And The Silver Screen.” It’s bright and upbeat guitar rock that’s jangly with a chugging bass. Note the previously mentioned Beatles-like psych-rock trail-out starting at about 3 1/2 minutes.

“Junk #2” is a throwback to the ‘70s, with a definite nod to Big Star. The song has a deliberate march-like tempo with chunky guitars and synth strings in the lead break. I don’t believe that the title has any reference to McCartney’s “Junk” from that same era, but I don’t know for certain.

Track 6, “As Good As It Gets,” begins as a fingerpicked ballad, then transitions to mid-tempo rock with soaring vocals and harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys.

Quatro closes with “Thank You,” a strummy and jangly number with warm and uplifting vocals that are often harmonized. We’re left with a very affirming feeling from Duke’s latest contribution to the indie music scene.  It’s a good listen.

 

The Chairman Dances “Child Of My Sorrow” Filled With Wonderful Lyric-Driven Songs

12 Sep

If you listen to my show on KZSU, you know that I have a weakness for indie pop-rock bands that write intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics — going beyond the simple love song formula. The Corner Laughers, Circus of the West, Andrew Bird, and Conor Oberstare excellent examples of this.

Well, another indie band that writes smart pop-rock is the Philadelphia-based quintet (and friends), The Chairman Dances. (I don’t know the story behind the band’s name. Someday, I’ll have to inquire.)

The Chairman Dances was one of those talented Philly bands that played mostly local gigs and occasionally produced an LP or EP until their 2016 record, Time Without Measure, put them on the map. That disc got a lot of play — particularly on college radio (we loved it at KZSU) — and its success gave the band a chance to go on a number of bigger tours.

For the past two years, lead singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Eric Krewson, has worked his day job and taken a self-described “sabbatical” as he wrote, rewrote and arranged a set of songs that has just been released as their latest album, Child Of My Sorrow.

Often sad, and occasionally a bit strange (or strangely funny — check out “Mascot”), Child Of My Sorrow represents a major step forward for the band. Intricate arrangements, outstanding performances (including from a number of guest artists such as Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner of Magnolia Electric Company), hooky melodies, and those lyric-driven songs make this a great contribution to 2018’s indie scene.

Track highlights: The first single from Child Of My Sorrow is “Acme Parking Garage.” It’s a driving rocker with alternating passages that play off one another, building to a big, clashy finish.

Track 2, “Mascot,” is one of my personal favorites. Maybe Eric Krewson and I have a similar sense of humor; I don’t know. This is wry story-telling pop-rock. It’s got an old-timey, almost romantic flavor as it speaks to the trials and tribulations of a person who lives his life performing in a Chick-fil-A cow suit, while his sister works as a journalist for the acclaimed Washington Post. Definitely worth paying attention to the lyrics on this one.

Track 4, “No Compass, No Map,” is the second single release from the album. It’s a melodic, piano-driven ballad with a skipping rhythm that builds to an anthemic finish.

Other impressive songs include “No One Can Hurt You (Like A Friend Can Hurt You)” — a nice little piano ballad with a bit of jangly guitar, synth, and glockenspiel. Lots of musical layers, with female harmonies blending with Krewson’s rich lead vocals.

I also like “Out Of The Lion’s Den, Into The Lion’s Maw” — which is depicted in the cover art — a cinematic number with lots of swelling keys; and the closing title track, “Child Of My Sorrow,” almost Gospel-like with its warm and reassuring lyrics.

Child Of My Sorrow is an outstanding album that you should definitely check out if you like indie pop-rock that’s more substantial than, “I love you…I hope you love me.”

 

Renata Zeiger Delivers an Intriguing Fusion of Jazzy Indie Rock

27 Jul

Renata Zeiguer (pronounced Z-eye – Grrr) is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who plays art pop-rock with jazzy underpinnings. On “Old Ghost” you can hear the influences of her early piano lessons in Yonkers, New York, mixed with the Latin rhythms of her dad’s homeland, Argentina.

After performing and recording with a number of New York City bands throughout her twenties, she released one previous EP — and has now debuted Old Ghost, her first full-length LP.

Critics have been impressed. Zeiguer has been praised for the level of command, confidence and technical proficiency she displays in her music. As a student of jazz and the classical form, in addition to rock, Zeiguer has an amazing ability to weave the various elements together and create a rock album with a distinct difference.

Track highlights:“Wayside” starts Old Ghost with a jazzy and jangly tune. Vocals are light, airy and sweet. Some edgy guitar is added in places to give the song its unique character.

“Bug” is a very interesting composition. It’s creative, guitar-driven art-rock with swirling synth trappings, whose lyrics warn against “falling into the basement” in response to personal paranoia and other issues.

“Follow Me Down” is a laid-back and soulful torch song, featuring exceptional guitar work and nice backing vocals.

Track 8 of the nine-song set, “They Are Growing,” is an upbeat, rhythm-based track with ringing guitar and vocals that are lush and dreamy.

Finally, the last track is “Gravity (Old Ghost),” sort of slinky, melodic synth-pop-rock, with Zeiguer’s expressive vocals climbing into the highest registers.

Overall, Old Ghost is an intriguing blend of jazz and rock — something quite apart from the typical indie rock album.

 

Fireproof Sam Delivers a Smoking Collection of Indie Rock Hits for Hot Summer Days

16 Jul

KC Bowman is one of those musicians where you could hand him a guitar, point to a microphone and tell him to fill the next hour. And he could easily do that…and much more.

The lead guitarist for the Redwood City-based Corner Laughers, Bowman is also the driving force behind a number of other indie bands, such as the Agony Aunts (the more rock-oriented alter ego of the Corner Laughers) and the Preoccupied Pipers.

And now, Bowman is Fireproof Sam, who together with the “Network Stars” — a loosely assembled group of 30 or more exceptionally talented musicians from throughout Northern California — has produced an intriguing new album  called Get Passive.

It’s a sumptuous indie feast — 20 tunes ranging from less than two to around four minutes — that cover a wide range of genres from Americana and blues-rock to a ska-flavored ditty.

Track highlights:As I said, this is truly a smorgasbord of music. Come on in and sit a spell — it’s all you can eat.

Start with a slice of the title track, “C’mon, Get Passive,” an up-tempo guitar rocker. Then enjoy “Tryna Be Bolth,” playful pop-rock that almost has a Motown feeling. It’s performed by the Agony Aunts, including Karla Kane, Khoi Huynh, Charlie Crabtree, and of course, Bowman, on lead guitar. And yes, I spelled the title correctly.

“Hide Behind My Heart” is catchy, slightly Americana-flavored pop-rock that delivers a great road-trip sound. “Obvious Scarecrow” has a funky ska groove, with a nice bumping bass, sharp guitar attacks and sax licks.

“Poisonous Peach” takes us in a folky direction, with its strummed acoustic guitar and clever lyrics. And “God Stopped Listening” could almost be a religious experience, with its full, rich jangly rock ‘n’ roll — and a great throwback sound that’s perfect for the radio.

There’s more — much more as I said — so pick up a copy and you won’t have to choose among the 20 tunes.

One important additional note:all proceeds from the sale of Get Passiveby Fireproof Sam and the Network Stars will benefit Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating stigma and promoting recovery and wellness for people with mental illness through work, housing, community and family support services. TMHA operates over 35 programs at locations throughout San Luis Obispo and North Santa Barbara counties. Sounds very worthwhile to me…plus you get so much great music!